Our country is in the midst of a crisis precipitated by our newly sworn in President and his close advisers. Even some of those who supported him, however reluctantly, are beginning to acknowledge this. The shock waves shake all of us, particularly those most vulnerable to oppression, discrimination, violence, incarceration, deportation. We scramble to maintain secure footing as we answer the strong call to act, to resist in whatever way we can.
February 1 is the day people in the Celtic world celebrate Imbolc, sacred day of the goddess Brigid, the beginning of spring. Time to start fresh. What positive meaning can this possibly have in such a dark, uncertain and frightening time?
Fear and uncertainty make us contract: physically, we tense our muscles and feel frozen; emotionally, we may be understandably unwilling to trust and make ourselves vulnerable; and mentally, we close ourselves off to unfamiliar or surprising ideas and knowledge. Spiritual beliefs and practices can open us. Meditation and yoga release tension and help us feel aware of and connected to our bodies and the Earth. Spending time in nature grounds us. When we reach out to beings and energies larger than ourselves in thoughts, words, prayers, and dreams, however we name or define them, we join the larger web of existence. Acknowledging our ancestors gives us a place of belonging and reminds us that with all they experienced and suffered, life got through to us.
Most of my ancestors came from the Celtic world: England, Ireland, Scotland. Brigid is one of the most ancient and important deities in that world, and she is also honored as a Catholic saint. One can feel her presence all over Ireland to this day at hundreds of wells dedicated to her. Water is sacred to the Celts, as it is to Native Americans and other indigenous people. People come to the wells to seek healing and protection for themselves and their loved ones. They leave behind candles, precious photos and stories, mementos, coins, gifts of all kinds. To approach one of these wells is to feel one’s heart open in gratitude, wonder, love and compassion.
John Mathews, renowned scholar of Celtic traditions, writes:
“…the threefold protection offered by Brigid is related to the triple Celtic soul: as the Lady of Smithcraft, Healing and Poetry, she is concerned with the weaving together of the mental, emotional, and psychic strands which make life worthwhile. Celtic people have always invoked her to wrap her mantle of protection around them, for her mantle is nothing less than the web of life which defines the soul-shrine. The mantle of Brigid is invariably woven by the recitation of the caim, an ‘encompassing’ or protective prayer which acts as a palladium against a variety of dangers.”
The Brigidine Sisters who founded the Solas Bhride Centre and Hermitages in Kildare, Ireland to “unfold [Brigid’s] legacy and its relevance for our world” describe Brigid as “a spiritual leader, a peacemaker, a woman of the land, an advocate for the poor, a woman of legendary hospitality.”
Traditionally, Celts put a piece of red cloth to represent Brigid’s mantle outside on a shrub in front of their home on or around Imbolc Eve, Jan. 31, for Brigid to bless. They cut a piece of the cloth and carry it in their pocket for protection throughout the next year. Midwives and healers might wrap the people they care for in the cloth for healing.
Along with all the other things you are doing to meet this extraordinary time, during the next few days, take a few minutes of quiet time and invoke Brigid or another healing, protective spirit from your own ancestral tradition. Imagine wrapping their mantle around yourself, your loved ones, and anyone else you know who needs protection at this time. Accept the peace and security this being offers. You can wrap a piece of cloth, shawl or blanket around yourself to represent that if you wish. Notice how that feels in your body.
If you want to dive a bit deeper into spiritual practice and connection this Imbolc, please join me in one of the following gatherings:
- “Put Your Oxygen Mask On First: Grounding, Body Awareness, and Self-Care,” Friday evening and Saturday, Feb. 3-4, first in a series of workshops, Sacred Skills for Making Change
- Imbolc Ceremony, Sunday afternoon, Feb. 5 – we will talk about what we’re experiencing in these times, spend time tuning into spiritual wisdom, make Brigid’s Crosses, and explore and commit to next steps toward beginning anew in our lives, in whatever way is relevant for us
For more details, click here.
 John Mathews, Encyclopedia of Celtic Wisdom: A Celtic Shaman’s Sourcebook (Shaftesbury: Element Books, 1994), p. 328.